We need a ‘me too’ movement for mental illness and suicide

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Three high-profile people recently lost their lives to suicide. Fashion designer Kate Spade, chef and food writer Anthony Bourdain, and (perhaps well-known by association) Inés Zorreguieta, sister of queen of the Netherlands. Still fresh in my memory is the suicide of Linkin Park’s Chester Bennington and actor Robin Williams. These stories are not easy to read for those of us who have come so close to losing our lives in a similar way.

Every life lost to suicide is tragic because every human being is valuable, means something to someone and has so much to offer the world. However, I can fully understand how someone can make the decision to end their life.

If you find yourself in the depths of depression, suicide seems like the greatest consolation. This is why I don’t judge any of these people for what they believed is the best way out because I also once found myself contemplating a very similar end.

I once read something that said: “No one commits suicide because they want to die. Then why do they do it? Because they want to stop the pain.”

Mental illness needs a ‘me too’ movement 

Suicide is an emotive, uncomfortable and controversial subject. A lot has been written about these suicides in the past few days and I have been both encouraged and angered by what I’ve read.

As these deaths received so much publicity it might make it easier for more people to talk about depression and suicide. What is really needed is a ‘me too’ movement for mental illness to raise the profile of conditions such as depression, anxiety, bipolar and PTSD.

It might raise the profile of mental illness – how awesome would it be if this category of illnesses were considered as serious as diabetes or heart disease? What if these deaths helped to remove the long-standing stigma associated with mental illness?

However, I am also angered by the lack of insight into what caused these people to take their own lives. The absence of compassion is concerning and devastating. Reading some of the Twitter commentary on these celebrity deaths is enough to make one lose complete faith in humanity. The media should also improve how they report on suicide.

We need to talk about suicide

Very few people want to engage with the fact that people kill themselves. How often are victims accused of being selfish, crazy or psycho? Labels hurt people. They are cruel. They cause people not to seek treatment for fear of judgement.

Depression is a legitimate medical condition

“In my mind, there’s nothing our generation should be more ashamed of than people with severe mental illness being punished for a disease they can’t do anything about. ” Fran Quigley

Depression isn’t just a case of “having the blues”. I spotted this beautiful statement by Kelly Risbey (@MntlHlthWarrior) on my Twitter feed some time ago: “If your friend was battling cancer, you’d send flowers, call, email, stop by. Do all these same things for your friend battling #depression.”

Don’t you sometimes wish that mental illness could be diagnosed with a blood test, or be visible on an X-ray? It would eliminate all those “snap out of it” or “it is all in your head” comments. No wonder so many people suffer in silence. Those who live with chronic conditions such as clinical depression, anxiety, PTSD or bipolar should be treated in the same way as someone living with diabetes, high blood pressure or asthma.

Check on your strong friend

This is such a powerful statement – check on those who you least expect to be struggling. The friend who tells you that they’re fine. That person who is always smiling. It could be a sibling who appears to have a picture perfect life. Is all really well?

 

 

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We have to talk about suicide

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September is Suicide Prevention Month and I’m wondering why this topic isn’t trending on Twitter. It is such an important subject to talk about. But very few people do. Very few people want to engage with the fact that people kill themselves. How often are victims accused of being selfish, crazy or psycho?

This image sums it up perfectly:

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Suicide is a subject close to my heart  because I almost reached that point a few years ago. I blogged about this in a previous post: Celebrating a year of living.

In South Africa, where I live, there is a suicide nearly every hour. This figure could be higher because many incidents aren’t reported. According to the World Health Organisation, South Africa has the eighth highest suicide rate in the world. Suicide is also the third greatest cause of unnatural death in the country.

 

People should talk about suicide. If someone tells you they are suicidal, believe them. They aren’t joking.

 

 

RIP Robin Williams

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robin williams

 

Today I’m saddened by the news of the apparent suicide of this great actor. I have many special memories watching his movies. The ones that stand out for me are Aladdin (he was the voice of the genie), Mrs Doubtfire (who doesn’t remember that?!) and Dead Poets Society. He become known as the funniest man alive, but in the end he had to face his demons alone – he saw no other way to deal with his struggle with depression and addiction. It is tragic to think how alone he must have felt in those final moments.

robin williams quote

Second chances, a cup of tea and a conversation

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suicide

Isn’t this story just amazing? I saw this on my Facebook feed this morning and the story has been on my mind the whole day.  Suicide is a subject that is very close to my heart because I was there a few months ago. It is a very scary place to find yourself in – to be so lonely and completely desperate that you see no other way out.

Whenever I hear about someone who has taken their own life, I always wonder about the circumstances that brought that person to the point where they are so desperate that they see no way out. Was there no one they could talk to? Did anyone listen or take them seriously? What if they had someone, like the man in this story, who took the time to listen? That’s quite a story to tell, don’t you think? A second chance at life, all thanks to a cup of tea and a conversation.

I remember that night when I contemplated suicide. I just wanted out. I had no interest in life anymore and the war within me was just too much. My my mind was racing with all kinds of thoughts: would it work, how long would it take, what if it doesn’t work. This isn’t something I talk about often – it isn’t exactly the greatest conversation starter –  but it was a significant moment in my life. The turning point. I knew something was really wrong.

I am so grateful that I got a second chance at life. In that moment I realised that my suicide would destroy other people and cause so much pain and I didn’t want to do that to anyone. I didn’t want my son to grow up without a mother, either. When I gained some perspective (weeks later after intensive therapy) I realised that I didn’t want to end my life – I wanted to end the pain. And there were so many better ways deal with that pain.

The bravest thing I’ve ever done was continuing my life when I wanted to die.